WASHINGTON -– Heed their names for they are the country's new power brokers: Sheldon Adelson, David and Charles Koch, Harold Simmons, and Bob Perry, among others. Along with similarly wealthy individuals and groups, they're pouring unprecedented sums into the 2012 election -- tens, perhaps even hundreds, of millions of dollars.
When asked why, they prefer to offer lofty motives. The billionaire Koch brothers speak about libertarianism and the need to save free enterprise. Casino magnate Adelson talks in equally apocalyptic terms about preserving the security and Jewish identity of Israel. Institutions such as the AFL-CIO and the National Education Association tend to stress liberal agenda items such as expanded health care and progressive taxation.
Some super donors say they want to level the playing field in the interest of a fair fight. Jeffrey Katzenberg of DreamWorks, President Barack Obama's most influential ally in Hollywood, has said that his goal is to blunt the efforts of Republican strategist Karl Rove, the Koch brothers and other hard-core conservatives to run away with the election.
But all these super donors have other goals that are less high-minded and more specific. Simply put, they want the federal government to do something or to stop doing something. For their money, they want results that will help their bottom line, their industry or their members.
"When people contribute to political action committees," then-Sen. Bob Dole (R-Kan.) said in 1983, "they expect something in return other than good government." And the money back then was trifling, and the rules back then were strict. Now it's anything goes.
So what do the big boys want? What do they really, really want? The Huffington Post looked behind the rhetoric for the potential policy payoffs -- there's truly no other word for it -- sought by 15 individual and institutional super donors in the 2012 campaign.
With the Koch brothers, for example, the motivation has less to do with libertarian ideology than with the fact that many of their industrial and mining companies are environmentally invasive -- to put it mildly. They expect a Republican administration and Congress, if they can buy one, to abolish laws, regulations and regulatory bureaucracies that interfere with their business.
For Adelson, the real close-to-home issue isn't in the Middle East; it's in the Far East -- and in Washington, D.C. Federal investigators are examining whether Adelson's company violated the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act by offering large payments to officials in Macau, where it has a major casino operation. Adelson would like an administration more likely to see his side of that story.
As for the AFL-CIO and the teachers' union, their goal is to preserve collective bargaining rights and union prerogatives at a time when membership has declined in all but public employee unions. Indeed, the main goal is to preserve public employees' collective bargaining rights and benefits, which are under attack at the state level. For these institutions, the identity of the president who has the power to nominate members of the National Labor Relations Board -- an obscure agency to most Americans -- is paramount.
Huey Long, the famously corrupt governor of Louisiana long ago, said that voters in his state "one of these days are going to get good government -- and they aren't going to like it." Well, that day has yet to come, in Louisiana or the 2012 election.
Check out the slideshow (below) for more details about these and other super donors -- and what they really want for their money.
Alexander Becker and Melissa Bendixen contributed research to this article.
Charles And David Koch
<strong>Business:</strong> Koch Industries, the second-largest private company in the United States, has major stakes in oil and natural gas, including the operation of pipelines and the manufacturing and refining process. The company also owns subsidiaries that make everything from toilet paper to fertilizer. <strong>How much have they given?</strong> The Kochs are expected to spend up to $100 million through several nonprofits, including Americans for Prosperity, that do not publicly disclose their donors. <strong>How rich are they?</strong> Tied for fourth richest Americans on the <em>Forbes</em> 400 at $25 billion apiece. <strong>What do they want?</strong> Most of the time, their conservative politics neatly dovetail with their business interests. The Kochs have spent millions to deny the existence of climate change caused by man-made global warming. They have invested huge sums in opposing the very notion that fossil fuel emissions could cause the warming of the planet. Koch Industries lobbies heavily in Washington against any policy to lower fossil fuel emissions or regulate the energy sector. These efforts help the company maintain a critical flow of profit. (Pictured: David Koch)
National Education Association And American Federation of Teachers
<strong>Business:</strong> The National Education Association (NEA) and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) are the top two unions representing the nation's public school teachers. <strong>How much have they given?</strong> The two unions have combined to give $7.029 million to super PACs through the end of June. <strong>What do they want?</strong> Recent GOP legislative efforts and rhetoric aimed at cutting education spending and limiting teacher benefits have given the unions a new sense of urgency. Both unions have vehemently opposed efforts by Republican governors to gut their collective bargaining rights, including in Wisconsin and Ohio. They also strongly oppose privatization plans, like those proposed by presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney. The unions have sought to tamp down efforts by Democrats, particularly big city mayors, who support vouchers for charter schools, private schools and religious education. Some Democratic mayors have also sought to limit the power of the teachers' unions in negotiations over tenure and accountability measures, most notably in Washington, D.C. Rising stars in the Democratic Party, like <a href="http://www.thirteen.org/eye-on-education/cory-booker/" target="_hplink">Newark, N.J., Mayor Cory Booker</a>, have bucked the unions and pushed for change. The roster of Democratic defectors has, at times, included President Barack Obama, whom the two unions have already endorsed, and his education secretary, Arne Duncan. Obama's "Race to the Top" initiative has not always been popular with the unions, nor has his support for public charter schools. Unions were angered when Duncan and Obama praised the wholesale firing of teachers at an underperforming school in Rhode Island. Randi Weingarten, the AFT president, said that she was "<a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/03/01/AR2010030103560.html" target="_hplink">profoundly disappointed by the comments</a>." By spending big on super PACs to help elect supportive candidates, the teachers' unions hope to increase their standing within the Democratic coalition and protect their collective bargaining rights. (Pictured: Vice President Joe Biden at the NEA's annual meeting)
Joseph Craft And Alliance Resource Partners
<strong>Business:</strong> Alliance Resource Partners is a giant coal mining company based in Kentucky. <strong>How much have they given?</strong> Joseph Craft has given, out of his own pocket and through his company's treasury, $2.6 million to super PACs, including to the one supporting Mitt Romney, for whom Craft raises money in Kentucky. <strong>How rich is he?</strong> Craft is worth $1.4 billion and ranks 331st on the <em>Forbes</em> 400. <strong>What do they want?</strong> Coal country is in full-blown revolt against President Barack Obama. Craft's contributions from the coffers of his coal company, Alliance Management Holdings, reflect his real interest in the election -- the continued support of coal by the government of the United States. Craft had sounded mildly optimistic about Obama's support for the industry after his 2008 election. "We know Obama's slogan is change. What change means for the coal industry and what change he brings remains unclear in a lot of people's minds. We will have to evaluate things as time goes on, but with the current economic situation we are in, it seems clear that jobs are the number one issue on his agenda. ... He has acknowledged the importance of coal. He knows coal is a low-cost energy source, he knows it's domestic, he knows it's abundant, he knows it creates jobs and that it is critical to have a continued strong economy. He appreciates the stimulus that low-cost energy will provide." But with proposed Environmental Protection Agency rules limiting mercury and toxic emissions expected to hit coal-fired power plants the hardest and a raft of proposed regulations that would specifically govern coal plants, Big Coal has turned hard against the president. Craft and other coal company operators hope to elect more congressional Republicans who oppose the regulation of fossil fuel emissions and the EPA and to put someone in the White House who will immediately reverse those Obama administration efforts to regulate toxic emissions. The other main interest of Craft and the coal industry are the seats on the Mining Safety and Health Administration. In late 2008, Craft said, "The Democrats were very critical of MSHA during the Bush administration. ... Who will they put in that chair, and how will they provide oversight to MSHA? That is a major issue for underground coal mining." The Obama administration has since increased MSHA enforcement, particularly after a series of high-profile accidents left many miners dead.
<strong>Business:</strong> The business empire built by Harold Simmons under the umbrella of Contran Corporation includes holdings in everything from titanium dioxide manufacturing to nuclear waste disposal and beet sugar refining. <strong>How much has he given?</strong> Simmons, his wife and his company have contributed $19.2 million to super PACs. He ranks as the second biggest super PAC donor in the country. <strong>How rich is he?</strong> Simmons is worth $9.3 billion and ranks 33rd on the <em>Forbes</em> 400 list of richest Americans. <strong>What does he want?</strong> All of those business ventures, along with low tax rates, constitute Simmons' primary interests. His political giving has often tracked his commercial concerns. His contributions to Texas lawmakers spiked as he sought permission to open a nuclear waste disposal site in west Texas. Simmons also favors loosened environmental rules for his manufacturing and waste disposal businesses. Like many other conservative billionaires, Simmons favors lower taxes on his $9.3 billion fortune.
<strong>Business:</strong> Bob Perry Homes is one of the biggest home building companies in the nation. <strong>How much has he given?</strong> Perry has contributed $12.65 million to super PACs supporting such Republicans as Mitt Romney and Senate candidate David Dewhurst of Texas. Perry is the third biggest donor to super PACs this election cycle. <strong>How rich is he?</strong> Perry's net worth is estimated to be as high as $650 million. <strong>What does he want?</strong> While rarely open to interviews, Perry has shown, through his generous funding, his deep opposition to trial lawyers and civil liability lawsuits against businesses. He is the biggest funder of Texans for Lawsuit Reform, a group that successfully fought for caps on legal damages in the Lone Star State, and he has supported similar efforts at the national level. Perry is known as an ideological conservative but does not give to the most conservative candidates. Rather, he focuses on those deemed most capable of winning and most likely to respond to his call, if the need arises. He first made waves on the national political scene as <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/03/16/AR2007031601987.html" target="_hplink">a donor to the controversial Swift Boat Veterans for Truth group</a> that attacked Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry in the 2004 election. He is part of the inner circle of donors who supported President George W. Bush, and he has known political strategist Karl Rove, now a super PAC fundraiser, since at least 1986, when they served on the same gubernatorial campaign.
<strong>Business:</strong> Peter Thiel co-founded PayPal and is now a hedge fund and venture capital investor. He was an early investor in Facebook. <strong>How much has he given?</strong> Thiel has contributed $3.6 million to super PACs this election cycle, including $2.6 million to a super PAC backing Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) for president. He sent $1 million to the conservative Club for Growth Action, which spends a lot of money to help very conservative candidates win Republican primaries, often ousting longtime incumbents. <strong>How rich is he?</strong> Thiel is worth $1.5 billion and ranks 293rd on the <em>Forbes</em> 400 list. <strong>What does he want?</strong> Thiel has long expressed strong libertarian beliefs and supports organizations such as the <a href="http://www.cato.org/" target="_hplink">Cato Institute</a> and the Pacific Research Institute. A gay man, he also helps fund <a href="http://www.goproud.org/page.aspx?pid=278" target="_hplink">GOProud</a>, a Republican advocacy group for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals. Thiel's political beliefs largely mirror his business goals, as tech startups, hedge funds and venture capital firms all benefit from lower taxes, fewer regulations and a looser business environment. But his super PAC donations appear to be aimed at generally supporting candidates in line with his libertarian ideology and not targeted toward any specific piece of legislation or political initiative.
<strong>Business:</strong> The AFL-CIO is the largest federation of labor unions in the nation. <strong>How much has it given?</strong> The AFL-CIO has contributed $2.3 million to super PACs that will support Democratic Party candidates in the fall elections. <strong>What does it want?</strong> The AFL-CIO has long been a central player in the Democratic coalition and shares nearly all the party's policy interests. As the umbrella federation for 56 unions in the United States, it <a href="http://www.aflcio.org/About" target="_hplink">supports a raft of policies</a> including the president's health care reform law, higher taxes on the wealthy, strong worker safety regulations, a high minimum wage and, of course, stronger collective bargaining rights. One area in which it sometimes differs from the president is trade policy. The AFL-CIO supports trade agreements that protect union rights and the environment and do not ship U.S. jobs overseas. The Obama administration has negotiated and signed a number of trade pacts that do not contain such guarantees. The AFL-CIO would therefore like to elect more congressional lawmakers who would insist on such guarantees before signing off on a trade agreement.
<strong>Business:</strong> Jeffrey Katzenberg is the CEO of DreamWorks Animation, one of the biggest and highest-grossing animation movie studios in the United States. <strong>How much has he given?</strong> Katzenberg has donated $2.125 million to super PACs, mostly in support of President Barack Obama's reelection. <strong>How rich is he?</strong> He is worth an estimated $860 million. <strong>What does he want?</strong> As CBS News <a href="http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-503544_162-57410615-503544/jeffrey-katzenberg-explains-super-pac-donation/" target="_hplink">reported</a>, Katzenberg gave $2 million to Priorities USA Action, the pro-Obama super PAC, because he was concerned "about the attempted hijacking of the elections by Karl Rove, the Koch brothers, and other extreme right wing special interest money and felt strongly that a defense had to be mounted." At the same time, Hollywood has its own interests in Washington, including legislation that would radically crack down on Internet piracy (which the Obama administration has not backed). Katzenberg's support for Hollywood's standard line can be seen in his contributions to another super PAC working to reelect Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.), one of the biggest proponents of Hollywood interests in Congress. Hollywood cares a lot about any fraying in U.S. relations with China as it tries to break into the gigantic Chinese market. DreamWorks is suspected of being under investigation for China-related violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, a U.S. law that prohibits domestic companies from paying bribes in foreign countries.
<strong>Business:</strong> Chicago-based Citadel LLC, founded by Kenneth Griffin, is one of the biggest hedge funds, currently managing around $11 billion. <strong>How much has he given?</strong> Griffin and his wife have contributed $2.08 million to super PACs including one supporting Mitt Romney for president. He has also reportedly given $1.5 million to the Koch brothers' group Americans for Prosperity, which does not disclose its donors. <strong>How rich is he?</strong> Griffin is worth $2.3 billion and ranks 171st on the <em>Forbes</em> 400 list of richest Americans. <strong>What does he want?</strong> What hedge funds and Griffin want from Washington are few regulations directed at them and no increase in the taxation of carried interest, the deferred income that most hedge fund managers receive instead of a traditional salary. Carried interest is taxed at a far lower rate than ordinary income, meaning hedge fund managers take home millions, if not billions, in additional profits. Despite supporting Barack Obama in his 2008 primary campaign against Hillary Clinton, Griffin has expressed deep opposition to the president's efforts today. He fears that the United States is embracing the policies of Soviet Russia and communist China, <a href="http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2012-03-11/business/ct-biz-0311-confidential-griffin-web-version-20120311_1_american-crossroads-politics-republicans-and-democrats/4" target="_hplink">saying earlier the year</a>, "This belief that a larger government is what creates prosperity, that a larger government is what creates good [is wrong]. We've seen that experiment. The Soviet Union collapsed. ... Why the U.S. is drifting toward a direction that has been the failed experiment of the last century, I don't understand." Griffin also expressed his view that the wealthy are not fairly represented in Washington when he said they "have an insufficient influence" in government.
J. Joseph Ricketts
<strong>Business:</strong> J. Joseph Ricketts is a founder of TD Ameritrade, owns the Chicago Cubs with his family, and operates an investment firm and a local online media site. <strong>How much has he given?</strong> He has contributed $1.11 million to super PACs, including his own, the Ending Spending Action Fund. <strong>How rich is he?</strong> Ricketts' fortune is estimated to be $1 billion. <strong>What does he want?</strong> Ricketts is a staunch financial conservative and (look at the name of his super PAC) wants to reduce government spending. Previously, he had put money into a group that aimed at earmarks -- spending directed to specific projects and companies by individual lawmakers in Congress -- but has since shifted to targeting government spending writ large, specifically spending by the administration of President Barack Obama. Ricketts also backs a balanced budget amendment with no increase in tax rates. This would force cuts in entitlements for seniors, the disabled and the poor and in benefits for middle-class Americans, while protecting large fortunes, particularly those held in investments like that of Ricketts and his family. Despite Ricketts' protestations that he is a registered independent seeking bipartisan solutions, his super PAC support flows only to Republicans and his policy priorities are those backed by the Republican Party. Daughter Laura Ricketts, a lesbian Democratic activist who is a bundler for the Obama campaign, has said that coming out as gay was easier in her family than coming out as a Democrat and a liberal.
<strong>Business:</strong> Steve Mostyn is a trial lawyer and served as president of the Texas Trial Lawyers Association in 2011. <strong>How much has he given?</strong> Mostyn, his wife and his law firm have combined to give $1.625 million so far this election cycle. <strong>How rich is he?</strong> Mostyn's net worth is unknown. <strong>What does he want?</strong> Mostyn is a major advocate for the interests of trial lawyers and the rights of consumers to sue for damages. The Houston-based lawyer made much of his fortune litigating for damages in the wake of Gulf Coast hurricanes. He also supports standard-issue Democratic Party policies including health care reform and increased spending on education. One area where he may desire influence is in preventing federal caps on medical malpractice awards. President Barack Obama has hinted that he would be open to legislation with those limits. Mostyn and other trial lawyers may hope that their support for his reelection could change his mind. A longtime donor to Democratic candidates in Texas and across the country, Mostyn was recently featured in a <em>New York Times</em> <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/08/magazine/can-the-democrats-catch-up-in-the-super-pac-game.html?pagewanted=all" target="_hplink">profile</a> of the pro-Obama super PAC <a href="http://www.prioritiesusaaction.org/" target="_hplink">Priorities USA Action</a>. The story described a conversation between him and Priorities USA representative Paul Begala: "Mostyn and his wife, Amber (who is also an attorney), were congenial but blunt. They were not fans of super PACs -- political action committees that can receive unlimited donations from individuals, corporations and unions, usually for the purpose of saturating the airwaves with attack ads." The conversation ended, however, with a $1 million gift from the Mostyns to Priorities USA -- one of the largest single super PAC donations by Democrats.
<strong>Business:</strong> James Simons founded the massive hedge fund Renaissance Technologies and is known for championing quantitative analysis, the application of scientific study and mathematical formulas to commodity and stock trading. <strong>How much has he given?</strong> Simons has contributed $2 million to Democratic super PACs. <strong>How rich is he?</strong> Simons is worth $10.6 billion and ranks 30th on the <em>Forbes</em> 400 list of richest Americans. <strong>What does he want? </strong> His interests include increasing education funding and, of course, protecting hedge funds and the high-powered computer trading that his firm uses from unwanted regulation. High frequency trading came <a href="http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2010-11-09/high-frequency-firms-accelerate-lobbying-donations-to-head-off-u-s-rules.html" target="_hplink">under scrutiny</a> after the May 6, 2010, market crash, which was sparked by a glitch in a computer-based trading program. Firms like Renaissance Technologies fought back against proposed regulation of such trading techniques by lobbying and making campaign contributions in Washington. Aside from his business interests, Simons supports the same liberal policies as many Democrats do. He was an opponent of the Vietnam War and <a href="http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=newsarchive&sid=aq33M3X795vQ" target="_hplink">was quoted</a> scoffing at a proposed $50 billion increase in the defense budget under President George W. Bush. "Just a little extra; give them an extra $50 billion. Well, for $2 billion, we could revolutionize math education in the U.S.," said Simons. <em>CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly put James Simons' worth in the millions, instead of the billions.</em>
J.W. And Richard Marriott
<strong>Business:</strong> Marriott is one of the world's biggest operators of hotels. <strong>How much have they given?</strong> Sons of the Marriott founder, J.W. Jr., also known as Bill, and Richard together contributed $2 million to the pro-Mitt Romney super PAC, Restore Our Future, in 2012. <strong>How rich are they?</strong> Richard Marriott is worth $1.4 billion and ranks 312th on the <em>Forbes</em> 400 list of richest Americans, and Bill Marriott is worth $1.3 billion and ranks 331st. <strong>What do they want?</strong> The Marriotts' connection to Romney -- they are all high-stature Mormons -- may be more personal than political, built on a shared sense of business and faith. As <a href="http://www.npr.org/2012/04/05/150058865/for-romney-family-ties-to-marriott-heirs-pay-off" target="_hplink">NPR quoted</a> Bill Marriott saying, "I've known Mitt Romney for a long time. He was on our board of directors for 10 years. He is extremely capable, competent, honest and a great family man. I think he'd make a terrific president. He's a wonderful leader, and he's very bright and smart. He understands how to make decisions and gather the right information, and to me he's a very inspirational strong leader." That being said, the Marriotts also have strong commercial incentives to support Romney. The company is known for paying a very low effective tax rate. The Marriotts would certainly like that to continue, and the Republican Party offers the best chance of maintaining low tax rates for the wealthy and even potentially decreasing them further. (Pictured: J.W. "Bill" Marriott)
<strong>Business:</strong> William Koch, the other Koch brother, heads Oxbow Carbon Group, an energy and fuel company that is the world's top producer of petroleum coke. <strong>How much has he given?</strong> Koch and his businesses have contributed $3 million to a super PAC supporting Mitt Romney's presidential campaign. <strong>How rich is he?</strong> Koch is worth $4 billion and ranks 80th on the <em>Forbes</em> 400 list of richest Americans. <strong>What does he want?</strong> Koch's interest in electing a Republican president stems not just from his conservative politics and upbringing, but from his vast holdings in coal mining and natural resource extraction. As one of his business associates <a href="http://www.villagevoice.com/2011-08-24/news/william-bill-koch-the-other-koch-brother-tea-party/" target="_hplink">told the <em>Village Voice</em></a>, "He thinks Mitt Romney would be much more pro-business than Barack Obama." Koch's affinity for Romney may have grown with their shared opposition to a wind farm planned off the coast of Cape Cod, Massachusetts, where Koch owns a beachfront property. He, like the late Sen. Ted Kennedy, did not want his view of the bay obscured by windmills and so contributed millions to a lobbying and advocacy campaign to defeat the proposal. Oxbow's earlier investments in geothermal energy were aided by subsidies from the federal government. Oxbow and another Koch company, Huron Carbon, have both received federal government contracts. This has caused controversy as government contractors are not allowed to make campaign contributions, yet both Oxbow and Huron have made direct corporate contributions to the pro-Romney super PAC, Restore Our Future.
<strong>Business:</strong> Sheldon Adelson owns the Las Vegas Sands casino empire. Currently, nearly 90 percent of his profits come from the Sands holdings in the Chinese port of Macau, a former Portuguese colony operating with fewer economic and personal restrictions than the mainland. <strong>How much has he given?</strong> Adelson -- through his own contributions and those of his family -- has donated $32.5 million to super PACs through the end of June. He is the biggest super PAC donor in the country. <strong>How rich is he?</strong> Adelson is worth $21.5 billion and ranks 8th on the <em>Forbes</em> 400 list of richest Americans. <strong>What does he want?</strong> The son of Ukrainian Jewish immigrants, Adelson has <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/11/sheldon-adelson-newt-gingrich-israel_n_1195867.html" target="_hplink">invested millions in the state of Israel</a>. He is a staunch supporter of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu -- he owns a free daily newspaper in Israel that backs Netanyahu's Likud party -- and a firm opponent of any peace agreement that creates a separate Palestinian state. Adelson has called Mahmoud Abbas, the head of the Palestinian government in the West Bank, a "terrorist" and considers the two-state solution a first step toward the elimination of Israel. His vast wealth, both foreign and domestic, is another of Adelson's great concerns. He supports standard-issue Republican Party policies such as lower income taxes, lower corporate taxes, no estate tax and far lower taxes on repatriated profits from abroad, where the majority of his business is done nowadays. All of these policies would help increase his wealth and improve his ability to pass it on to his children. Adelson's foreign business has gotten him into legal trouble recently. Las Vegas Sands -- in particular, its China operation -- is under investigation for <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/16/sheldon-adelson_n_1676571.html" target="_hplink">possible violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act</a>, a U.S. law that bans domestic companies from paying bribes in foreign countries. Such bribery investigations have spiked in recent years. Adelson may hope for lighter enforcement from a future administration that gained power with the help of his millions. He has also blasted President Barack Obama's administration, <a href="http://www.forbes.com/sites/stevenbertoni/2012/02/21/billionaire-sheldon-adelson-says-he-might-give-100m-to-newt-gingrich-or-other-republican/" target="_hplink">calling it</a> "the path to more socialism, and to more of the government controlling people's lives." <em>CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly put Sheldon Adelson's worth in the millions, instead of the billions.</em>